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Prep track and field: Willmar Cardinals have high expectations and plenty of hope

Boys look like serious contenders with 75 athletes out while the girls, with 45 athletes, will be strong in many events

Hassennadif Hassen races down the track in the boys 4x400 during the Class AA state track and field championships at St. Michael on Saturday, June 11, 2022.
Hassennadif Hassen races down the track in the boys 4x400 during the Class AA state track and field championships at St. Michael on Saturday, June 11, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR โ€” Willmar track and field head coach Connor Haugen has caught glimpses of what his teams might be made of in 2023 through indoor practices and an early conference meet.

The Willmar boys and girls took fourth place at the Central Lakes Conference indoor meet on Saturday, April 1 in Collegeville. Between the two teams, there were five first-place finishes โ€” three for the boys, two for the girls. Yet, neither team was at its fullest potential.

"We have high expectations for our boys and a lot of hope for our girls," Haugen said. "As we head into championship season, we'll be hoping to make as many splashes as we did last year. Actually, more. Way more."

Some early highlights from the boys team at the CLC meet were made by senior Sam Raitz, sophomore Sully Anez and the 4x400-yard relay team (juniors Evan Burgess and Fathi Dubet, sophomore Ezra May, and Anez). Raitz won the 200-meter dasj, Anez won the 800, and the quartet won the 4x400 title.

Haugen likes the depth of his sprinting team and knows there will be a few standouts in the distance team, such as Anez. But there will also be a big void to fill in the 800 and 4x800 since the departure of Colin O'Farrell, who is currently a track and field member for Minnesota State University-Moorhead.

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Willmar freshman Sully Anez, right, and sophomore Hassennadif Hassen finished 1-2 in the boys 1,600 run during the Willmar Invitational on Thursday, April 28, 2022 at Hodapp Field in Willmar.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
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The Willmar boys are also in search of a second high jumper and pole vaulter. Haugen hopes that the team's jumps will continue to grow as the season progresses behind its "well-stocked" roster.

Overall, Haugen has a lot of faith in his boys team.

"Our boys team is going to be very strong this year," Haugen said. "We just have the numbers to pull from this year. We have about 120 kids on the roster and about 75 of them are boys. We have a lot of depth to pull from."

Haugen expects the girls' distance team to be strong as well as the throwing team led by Makenna Larson, who took first place in the shot put at the CLC indoor meet. Lauren Eilers also won the 800 and placed second in the 1,600 at the CLC indoor meet.

"On our girls side, we're still kind of building into things," Haugen said. "We're still not finding as much speed as we want to. But we're able to fill in with other areas to make our team stronger in that regard."

Hannah Quinn of Willmar, center, competes in the girls 4x800 at the Class AA state track and field championships at St. Michael on Saturday, June 11, 2022.
Hannah Quinn of Willmar, center, competes in the girls 4x800 at the Class AA state track and field championships at St. Michael on Saturday, June 11, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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Haugen knows there's room for improvement on the girls side in jumps and sprints. Although Deshawna Hodges had a strong meet for Willmar at the CLC indoor competition, where she placed fourth in the 400 and eighth in the 60 and also helped the 4x400 relay team to a third-place finish.

"We need a couple of our younger girls to be able to step into those roles to help us out," Haugen said. "That's going to be where we need to grow on our girls team."

St. Peter won the Class AA boys team title and Monticello won the Class AA girls team title in 2022. Alexandria and Fergus Falls are teams to look out for in the CLC, according to Haugen.

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"Fergus Falls has taken a step. Their distance program was really good this past fall and its carried into this spring. Their throws are fantastic as well," Haugen said. "But, all-around, top to bottom, Alexandria is going to be the best team in the conference if we don't have anything to say about it."

Willmar is back in action at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the St. Cloud State University's Halenbeck Field House, where it will compete against Paynesville, Rocori and Sauk Centre.

And while Willmar has yet to get outside, Haugen likes where his team's mindset is at.

"We've found ways to help the kids have fun," Haugen said. "We definitely need some more competitions soon. Ultimately, their attitudes have been great."

Michael Lyne joined the West Central Tribune as a sports reporter in May 2022, following his graduation from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where he graduated with a bachelors degree in journalism and a minor degree in Spanish studies.

You may reach Michael at mlyne@wctrib.com, or by calling (320) 214-4345.
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